In space, no one can hear you scream
In 1979 Ridley Scott released arguably the most terrifying movie experience ever concocted, Alien. Featuring a nightmarish creature that was as scary as it was fascinating, a survivor unclouded by conscience, remorse or delusions of morality. But it wouldn’t be until 2014 and many failed attempts later that gamers would get to experience the full magic and dread of this monstrous creation with the release of Alien Isolation. Now in 2019, Feral Games have brought the terror to Nintendo Switch so you can take the nightmare with you wherever you go.
The Perfect Organism
Serving as a direct follow up to the original movie, Isolation takes place fifteen years later and follows the story of Amanda Ripley (Ellen Ripley’s daughter) after receiving a report from Weyland-Yutani that the flight recorder for her mother’s ship, The Nostromo, has been recovered, Amanda accepts an offer to join their team and head’s to Sevastapol station eager for any information that could solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance.
It shouldn’t come as a shock that when the team arrive at Sevastapol things soon go on an express elevator to hell as the station is heavily damaged with no one responding to hails. When the crew manage to enter the station they find the place in chaos with bodies and debris littering the corridors, small groups of survivors hunkered down and hostile to anyone who approaches and murmurs of a creature on the loose. Tension builds as Amanda set’s out in search of answers, using stealth and deception to avoid hostile groups the nightmare soon becomes very real as a trip to the medical bay brings her face to face with the menacing Alien. Now the true fight for survival begins as Amanda seeks to uncover the sinister secrets of the f**king company, find a way to stop the Alien who stalks her at every turn and save herself and her crew.
Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility
This is where the true magic of Alien Isolation comes to life, as the Alien stalks you through the corridors, vents and complexes within Sevastapol you can never let your guard down. The team did a great job of making the Alien not only a physically imposing replication of the movie monster but an intelligent force to be reckoned with. Every noise you make, generator you power up, system you activate or loud footstep will alert the Alien to your presence. Hearing the clunk of movement in the vents above and below and the thud of its feet hitting the deck followed by the long hiss and growl as it begins to patrol the area looking for lunch will have the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.
Thankfully you are not completely defenceless, as you explore the station you will locate tools and items to create and upgrade, from a trusty motion tracker who’s bleeping will have your nerves working overtime to a blow torch and hacking device to gain access to new area’s as well as blueprints to create items such as noisemakers, flares and flashbangs. These can be used to distract or confuse the Alien allowing you to slip away or at least move to the next hiding place. Luring the Alien to a group of survivors is also a viable option to keep it busy while you try to bypass an area to the sounds of screams, shrieks and gunfire.
Hide and Seek
Hiding is an easy option when the not so friendly neighbourhood xenomorph comes sniffing around, lockers, storage crates and even the timeless under the table trick can be the difference between life and death but make sure you have broken a line of sight from the Alien or it will drag you out and murder you unceremoniously. Buttocks will clench as the Alien approaches your hiding place and stare menacingly through the grating, a press of the L button will allow you to hold your breath for a short period of time in the hope it will not discover you making for some extremely tense moments where you have nowhere to run.
As with most things in the Alien universe, a false sense of security will be your undoing. The lures you utilise to distract the Alien will only be effective for so long. The creature is adaptive and will learn from the way you play the game, throwing a flare too often will see the Alien ignoring the brightly burning stick on the floor and heading towards the direction it was thrown from with a renewed purpose to find you. Other defensive items are more traditional with a Revolver, Shotgun, Nail Gun and Flamethrower becoming accessible as the game progresses. Firearms are useless against the Alien but a blast of the Flamethrower or a Molotov will cause it to run away but once again it will learn, as ammo and resources are scarce a new sense of fear rises when the creature stands just out of range of the Flamethrower in a sci-fi Mexican standoff waiting for you to run out of ammo as you frantically plan a way to escape its clutches. This cat and mouse affair never lets up and really drives the tension and terror coupled with the randomised encounters, meaning the Alien will behave and make appearances differently each repeated playthrough of an area.
It’s a goddam robot!
Luckily Ian Holm doesn’t reprise his role as the Sinister android Ash, but synthetics are prominent throughout the station. The Seegson Synthetics named “Working Joe’s” patrol area’s of the station and soon begin to malfunction and turn hostile towards you. As if dealing with the Alien isn’t bad enough, worrying if the mannequin looking synthetic is going to try and throttle you to death at the drop of a hat makes completing tasks even more challenging and tense. Some sections will task you with reactivating a system while Joe’s patrol, you can take them down with firearms or a crafted EMP to stun them at the risk of alerting the Alien. As punishing as all this sounds it really makes you feel pretty helpless and channels the gameplay to stealth, deception and survival with a sense of relief and achievement coming when you overcome all the odd’s and take one step closer to safety.
I’ve never seen anything like it
Alien Isolation is a gripping and terrifying gaming experience but what’s that you say? How does it hold up five years later and on the Nintendo Switch? much like the Alien itself, the port from Feral Games is pretty flawless. Graphically Alien more than holds it’s own against the PS4 and Xbox version. I spent the majority of my time playing in handheld mode, mainly so I could sit on the toilet to save on clean underwear, but I was immediately impressed, even blown up on the big 4K TV everything looked sharp though for personal preference I turned the film grain effect off.
The interiors of the ships and station all stood out perfectly against the shadows and lighting with smoke evaporating subtly as you walk through it. Every spark or flashing console light brought Sevastapol to life with no obvious sign of digital trickery done to textures on close up examination. Interiors are all modelled around the movie and look strikingly authentic with the development team designing every item in the game based around only the props and items the film crew had access to in 1979 for added authenticity. Character models look sharp with beads of sweat showing on humans, the glistening eyes of the Working Joe’s shone in the darkness like Patrick Stewart crossed with a Terminator and the Alien itself was slimy and detailed.
Sound design is menacing and atmospheric
Every footstep, computer system and terminal all sound suitable retro-futuristic, the voice acting is to a high standard with the Alien taking centre stage for sound effects, every hiss, growl and scream fill’s the station with the experience best enjoyed with a good headset. Playing with the Astro A10 headset brings Sevastapol to life in a whole new way with the location being a character all in itself reminiscent of other great contained environments like Rapture, Shadow Moses and Arkham Asylum.
Controls are clunky by design but intuitive enough to settle into. Movement feels slightly restrictive to give the feel of being a regular person in a tough situation. As you access computer terminals or climb into vent’s there is always that moment where you feel completely vulnerable, not being able to raise a weapon for a few moments is nerve-racking especially when you climb into a vent to find the Alien is in there with you reminiscent of THAT scene from the movie. Feral Games have also added gyro aiming which only comes into effect when you raise a weapon, personally, I would of liked the option to play the whole game with full gyro but the work they have done is very responsive and a nice option if you prefer to play with loose joy-cons.
I can’t lie to you about your chances, but you have my sympathies
Depending on your skills and luck an average playthrough should last you between twelve to eighteen hours making the campaign a generous offering by FPS and horror standards. But with the Switch version, you also get all seven DLC packs included.
- Crew Expendable – The original cast return to lend their voices and likenesses as you choose to play as either Ripley, Parker or Lambert aboard the Nostromo as you attempt to flush the Alien into the airlock.
- Last Survivor – Play as Ripley in the closing moments from the movie as she attempts to activate the self destruct and make it to the narcissus escape shuttle.
To accompany the survival challenge mode which set’s a series of objectives in various locations, five additional challenge packs include.
- Corporate Lockdown – Features three additional maps
- Trauma – Features two additional maps
- Safe Haven – Features a new character and new challenge against a time limit
- Lost Contact – Features a new character and setting for the time limit challenge
- The Trigger – Features a new character and three additional challenge maps
Alien Isolation remains one of the best-licensed game ever created with full fan service seeping through every second of the experience. From location designs, sound, story and characters, this feels like a true sequel in the same formula as the original movie and provides a look into the wider Alien universe. As a port this is up there with the best of them from Diablo 3 to Skyrim, Feral Games have done a masterful job of bringing this classic to Nintendo Switch for a new audience to experience and for fans who want to experience the terror all over again.
Isolation is now five years old and as such show’s it’s age slightly in places but this by no means ruins the experience. With so much content for your money, this is a must-have for any Alien or horror fan and set’s a new standard for what a port should look and perform like on the system.
Review code provided
Platform: Nintendo, PlayStation, Xbox, PC
Release Date: 05/12/2019
No. of Players: 1
Category: Survival Horror
Developer: Feral Interactive
Publisher: SEGA Europe Limited
Download link: eShop